Dan Rattiner's Stories

Beam Me Up Scotty: Scientists Are Working on It

There’s been a lot of news from scientists about our universe recently. About a month ago, they announced the discovery of another “Goldilocks” planet, where life as we know it could thrive. Thirty years ago we didn’t think any planet similar to ours was out there. There was big excitement when they found the first. Now they’ve found hundreds. And a month ago they found the closest one yet to Earth. It’s been right under our nose, one scientist said, although he was speaking in light-year terms.

Also in the news this past month was the explosion of a SpaceX rocket on a launch pad in Florida. Nobody was in it at the time. But it was a setback for Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, who vows the explosion won’t set his rocket ship to Mars plan back and he’ll press on until he can get a manned mission to Mars by 2025. Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic also has a rocket ship project aimed at colonizing Mars, possibly even earlier than the SpaceX project.

Meanwhile, scientists at NASA, using the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, a strong space telescope, have been able to see a black hole swallowing up a star way out there. It produced lightning-like flares and, as one of the reports says, a “cosmic burp.” The energy released, including X-ray and ultraviolet light, destroyed everything between itself and a dust shell surrounding it.

“It’s as though the black hole has cleaned its room by throwing flames,” said Sjoert van Velzen, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University.

The news that was the most fascinating to me, however, was of a successful study done by MIT scientists where they made something happen in Chicago that simultaneously happened in Soudan, Minnesota. It was extraordinary. It was not “transmitted.” It was not something at the speed of sound that got there. It was not something at the speed of light that got there. It happened at exactly the SAME TIME, without anybody wanting it to—except that they predicted it would happen, and it did.

People have been talking about time travel for a hundred years or more, as you know. Back in the 1930s, scientists observed that if you had two neutrinos—very small particles in a lab—side by side and they were close enough to become entangled, they would react to each other. For example, if one neutrino were circling around clockwise, the other would be found to be circling counterclockwise, to make the sum of the circle zero. This was according to the principles of quantum physics. It was then observed, however, that if you changed direction of one, then the other would change. But what got really interesting was that after being separated—disentangled, so to speak—if you changed the direction of one, the other would change to the opposite, too, even though there was no way for the second to know about what was happening to the first. Also, the change happened too fast to be measured.

Einstein, at Princeton at that time, was never a fan of quantum physics. He had developed his own worldview of physics years before. This “communication,” Einstein said, was predictable mathematically if you used quantum physics, but since it couldn’t actually happen, it wasn’t happening. It was some sort of error. He called it “spooky action at a distance” and predicted they would find something they overlooked in the experiment. But they never did.

Further experiments—some done at the Brookhaven National Lab—kept reconfirming the results. Last year, this effect was demonstrated when one neutron was placed at one end of the Delft University of Technology campus in Holland, and, when it was messed with, changed how another neutron behaved on the other side of campus, 1.3 kilometers away. Simultaneously.

Now with this latest MIT experiment, the change was demonstrated between a lab at the University of Chicago and another in Northern Minnesota. Scientists now say they can prove “spooky action at a distance” can happen between two objects at opposite ends of the known universe. And they intend to have it done by next year.

Prepare to be beamed up to another world. That old phrase “What happens on Earth stays on Earth” has just gone by the boards.

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